The Singlespeed World Championships 2008

The Singlespeed World Championships: Holy cow, that was a whirlwind tour of some sweet spots in Northern California’s riding stash, and a great family reunion of the singlespeed tribe. Jeff Lockwood – web dude emeritus, his large Philly-area posse, and I packed a lot of riding and socializing into three days.

Friday: The City

Our goal for the first day was to make it out of airport hell in time to catch one of the “official” activities for the event, a San Francisco city ride from American Cyclery to the Marin Headlands for a barbecue. I was to meet up with Jeff Jones, who had driven down from Oregon with his family, to borrow a bike (lucky me). Unfortunately a huge concert going on in Golden Gate Park made getting to the shop for the “five o’clock sharp” ride time difficult—fortunately we were on singlespeed time, which translated “sharp” into “within an hour or so.”

Riding with the large and already rowdy crew was sort of like being in a deeper-underground Critical Mass made up of knobby brethren. Locals did jamming duty and some cars honked at the holdup, but they all stopped for us, and the vibe was generally mellow. We had the fashion fixie kids staring at us, and a few even joined in, as we took over the city. We climbed up through the Presidio and to the Golden Gate Bridge through a windy fog. Crossing the bridge was breathtaking, both from the view of the crashing, sun-speckled ocean and shore on one side and the city on the other, and from the fierce wind that threatened to sweep me off the damn thing.

Across the bridge we tore down a swoopy dirt road to a massive concrete structure next to the beach, built to hold big guns aimed at phantom Japanese during WWII. The singlespeed translation of “barbecue” turned out to be more like the junior high variety, with a couple bags of chips, a pack of tofu dogs and some hamburger buns, plus flasks and bottles of hooch. No keg though, so the barbecue didn’t last long. That was fine—we hung out for a while with the tribe and then headed out to find some real food. Dave Joachim, the foodie among us, scored a recommendation for a Mexican place that turned out to be perfect, so we ate excellent food and drank even better margaritas, served by the owner Tommy himself. We gave him a round of applause at the end and he thanked us with souvenir placemats.

We made our way to our deluxe accommodations for the night, a hotel that had conflicting signs stating that “We are a tourist hotel” and “There is a $30 charge for each additional guest in your room.”

Saturday: The Country

The morning’s plan was to meet up with a guide, Mark Riedy, for a ride at Camp Tamarancho near Fairfax, but he got in too late Friday night to make it. I called our resident expert Charlie Kelly but he was working. So we headed out on our own, on advice that the main loop was easy to find, and despite Charlie’s recent tale of groups getting lost. There were handy maps at the trailhead though that prevented us from missing lunch.

The riding was fantastic and singlespeed-approved—twisty like the most twisted-up stuff in the East, but with only gradual climbs and perfectly sunny and dry weather. There were so many switchbacks I expected to eventually meet myself on the trail. Despite the trail’s natural flow I had a hard time keeping any for myself and was plagued with flats and other annoyances. But any day out on the trail is a good day.

Charlie was able to join us back in Fairfax for a large and late lunch featuring beer. Riding through that town was like a biker’s dream—everybody in cars slowed down and/or stopped for us, often with a smile and a wave, even in our more haphazard moments that would have earned honks and finger gestures elsewhere. The restaurant where we ate had more bikes than cars parked out front.

Happily tired and disorganized, we patronized the local shops, New Paradigm Cycles and Sunshine Bicycles, and a grocery store to get last minute supplies for the race. Somehow this all took several hours, and the guys at New Paradigm were nice enough to open their doors past closing time for the second invasion of the day by our mob. Turns out they’re Rush fans too—if you’re ever in the area on a Friday, be sure to go there for an all-Rush retail music experience.

We finally made the drive up to Napa to set up camp just before dark. I was bummed to be missing out on an invitation to join Charlie’s weekly jam session back at his band‘s practice space, but as that was located some distance away, the logistics were against me.

The town of Napa is pretty yuppified, being in the heart of wine country, and we were more of a beer sort of crowd, but we found the brewpub that served as the site of singlespeeder congregation (aided by the pile of bikes stacked high out front) and proceeded to show the locals how it’s done. We got some help drinking the extra pitchers of beer we accidentally ordered from Peter Keiller of Misfit Psycles. On the way back to the car Justin Kline of Princeton Tec did some dirty dancing in front of a crowded restaurant window.

Topher Valenti and Keith Ridenour of Bikesport, determined to race for real, tried to go to bed early but were dragged out of their tents by drunken hooligans well past midnight. I think Mike “The Dutch Hammer” Yarnall got rolled in his bivvy sack at some point. As designated driver, I earned myself a pair of earplugs and a relatively early bedtime of around 1 a.m.

Sunday Sunday Sunday: Race Day

(Curtis Inglis: esteemed host, announcer, and lederhosen model.)

We woke up to an uncharacteristically cool and overcast sky, but knew that it wasn’t to last, this being sun country. I decided to join Lockwood and Dave for a trip into town for some real breakfast and a mission to get a new spoke put on to Dave’s rear wheel. Somehow we didn’t leave until about 9—the race start was at 10—and found ourselves staring at a clock on the wall of an upscale bakery while willing the cook to assemble our egg sandwiches faster, dammit. We raced back to the venue, got there just at 10, and had to hold up the course tape to get the car back to our campsite. But ah, singlespeed time saved us again, and we had a chance to get changed and digest some before lining up.

The course was wonderfully brutal. Hot and dusty, with some hike-a-bike climbs, some steep rocky descents, and the scariest switchbacks I’d ever seen. They had warned us on the official blog to only ride rigid if you wanted to beat yourself up, but fortunately the sweet Jones Spaceframe I rode doesn’t quite classify as rigid. (I did wish at times I had Jeff’s Fat Front Fork with an Endomorph though, as did Biff of The Outcast as well as Jeff himself.) It was kind of intimidating, getting passed on the downhills by mobs of fast folks including the likes of Marla Streb and Carl Decker, but the many hilarious costumes (including the ones worn by Marla and Carl) and the dude with the boombox playing “Too Many Puppies” helped my mental game. Playboy bunnies, mankinis, caped avengers, orange jumpsuits and a pretty pretty princess named Kristin Butcher were all there. The great Jacquie Phelan herself wore a wool three-piece suit and still finished without passing out. Yarnall stepped up to the challenge of sporting a pair of official tighty-whiteys, sans chamois, for all three laps and won a sweet pair of Phil Wood hubs for his effort.

By the third lap the aggro crowds had mostly vanished and I loosened up enough to ride more of the tech spots. I traded places with Biff (only catching up with him when he stopped to chat and sip) and some guy dressed in a Daisy Duke outfit that fetchingly showed off his beer belly. I figured I was closing in on DFL, but was surprised at the finish to be handed a bottle opener with “Finisher #193” on it. Turns out many racers had dropped out after one or two laps, some due to cramps and mechanicals, some due to beverage and burrito temptation at the start/finish area.

Rachel Lloyd and Mark Weir, fresh off the Santa Cruz Hellride, came in first (chicks) and second (dudes) respectively. Mark was on one of the more unusual bikes: a singlespeed-converted Nomad. At the awards Rachel, standing on her own singlespeed Olympic podium, proceeded to lead the crowd in a somewhat inebriated version of the Star Spangled Banner. Carl Decker, one of the caped avengers, won it for the dudes. Our PA Posse represented quite well:
Topher – 49
Keith – 80
Yarnall – ?? (but he was one of the few, the proud, the Tighty-Whities)
Joachim – 166
Karen – 193
Lockwood and Justin – DBI (Drank Beer Instead)
But of course, as the banners and hecklers alike reminded us, we were all winners.

More SSWC08 photos in this Dirt Rag Gallery.


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